It started with talking with local merchants about what they need and what challenges them in operating their business. A seed of an idea was planted. Then there were my own experiences on the board of a local small non-profit and our struggles to survive. (Read about pARTners unlimited here). Just like small businesses, small non-profits have limited resources and struggle for public awareness.
All I kept seeing were puzzle pieces that could and should fit together more efficiently spread apart from each other across the divide of other puzzle pieces on the table of community. Merchants make donations but sometimes feel they don't have as much of an impact as big donations. Small non-profits are out asking and trying to find those businesses and individuals that care about the people they serve. So many entities out there that are local and small on their own struggling for support, business, and exposure in both the non-profit and small business world.
Loaded with anecdotal information I decided it would be helpful to gather some of these merchants together to ponder the question of how to maybe nudge the puzzle pieces closer together. I wanted a brainstorm session but I know that I'm all passion and frenzy which means I probably can't objectively facilitate a productive brainstorm. The universe opened up and there was an introduction from Mike Sansone of one phenomenal Ginger Johnson of SNAP and guess what she does . . . she is a professional brainstorm facilitator. Has there ever been a more invaluable community then the Central Iowa Bloggers? Can you believe how that just came from Mike's introduction?
I'm shaking now and email this woman who does not know me with my dilemma. At this point, I've actually started asking merchants to attend a brainstorm but I desperately need just the right person to lead. I ask her and can't believe it when she says "Stay calm, I'm glad to help, let's talk it through."
In the beginning of February we had this very successful brainstorm with terrific people in attendance. (Check out SNAP recap Download february_08_brainstorm_notes_from_snap.doc) . These were all very busy people, people with businesses to run themselves that amazingly stepped up to be a part of this initial brainstorm. The experience was powerful and ground-shaking to say the least.
Then I decide to talk to Brett Rogers who I have met again because of this awesome group of people who are the Central Iowa Bloggers. I've met Brett several times, read his blog often so it is like I know him in any case, and I keep hearing about him too. In a nutshell he is a glowing spirit of a person and REALLY smart to boot. Check out his recent interview podcast with Brett to see what I mean here. (I'm going to get Lisa Ballenger of Golf Etc. for Women to tell her wonderful story for Entrepreneur People soon which includes a great story about Brett).
Anyway, I tell him what has been happening up to this point with the merchants, with Ginger Johnson, and this idea of aligning the local non-profits into one place so that local merchants and individuals can quickly understand who they are, what they do, and what they need.
Brett's listening and asking really right-on-relevant questions and I'm asking him about what it would take to create a website that could align the non-profits and provide merchants a place to review and select the right organizations for their donations. Then he talks about this powerful search engine he has created this past year and then there is this pause in conversation . . . and Brett says the most, most incredible thing, "I like this idea and I think my search engine could work perfectly for this. I want to try it."
I get off the phone and I'm going ABSOLUTELY CRAZY now. David is cooking dinner or something and I'm leaping and twirling around him. I can't contain myself with the joy of it. This totally unbelievable gift and talent that is coming to this project. Brett begins and comes up with a website demo that has a perfect feel and look and now I'm out talking to people and they're intrigued and interested.
I'm excited quite a bit these days as we prepare for round two of brainstorming for LocalsGive.com.(only demo available right now) I've spoken with state organizations, city organizations, school administration, non-profits, and merchants. As of right now I have only a dozen seats left for our brainstorm event which will be held on March 3, from 6 to 7:30 at the Valley Junction Community Center. People like Jim Henter of Iowa Retail Federation plan to be in attendance to offer ideas and I keep getting feedback from other state and local entities that express this is a potentially powerful project. We will meet to see a demo of Brett's work for the LocalsGive site and offer more ideas to for the project.
Would you like to help with your own feedback and ideas? If you care about small businesses, local non-profits, and community and this idea resonates for you please contact me at email@example.com soon so I can add your story to this story. Let's sit and ponder how to fit the pieces of the puzzle together!
At a time when we realize just how precious our resources are it seems right to find the path that maximizes their impact.
picture by david boudreau, powered by flickr